At-Large State Board of Education Rep. Ashley MacLeay
At-Large State Board of Education Rep. Ashley MacLeay Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Ashley MacLeay is offended. As the granddaughter of a former D.C. police officer, the at-large member of the D.C. State Board of Education is disturbed that the board would consider removing police officers from schools. She shivers at the thought of “replacing trained professionals with social workers.”

Last night, the D.C. State Board of Education passed a resolution in support of removing school resources officers and armed security guards from D.C. public schools.

MacLeay was the lone member to vote against the measure and accused her colleagues of disparaging police officers and trying to “capitalize on an incident that took place half a nation away,” referring to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

In an attempt to explain the need for schools having armed security officers, she cited an event from 2017. “Just a couple months into my term, a Black 3-year-old brought a gun into a school … it was found none other than by an [school resource officer],” she declared.

The offense, it appears, is mutual.

Markus Batchelor, the Ward 8 State Board of Education rep who introduced the measure, says the racist tropes that MacLeay evoked are “the exact reason we voted to pass the resolution last night.”

Her comments about the “Black 3-year-old” stood out in particular to Batchelor, not only because of what she said, but how she said it.

“I’m not trying to persecute her for her difference in political views,” Batchelor tells LL. “What I’m offended by is the racist undertones to her comments, which have no place in a body where we’re representing students who are majority Black.”

In her comments leading up to the vote, MacLeay defended police in schools and in general by describing her own experience watching a “drug-addicted man with a semi-automatic weapon” steal her young neighbors’ backpacks. She also claimed it is “well known” that “gang members and human traffickers, aka pimps, hang out” at a school east of the Anacostia River, where a majority of the population is Black.

She said she believes SROs reduce truancy and prefers replacing officers “who are not suited for school work with more carefully selected personnel and improving training of all SROs.”

MacLeay did not answer LL’s phone calls and instead sent an emailed statement, which reads in part: 

“The beauty of freedom of speech is having the ability to speak your mind and I chose to speak for those who are too scared to speak up in today’s world. I believe removing SROs will lead to a marked increase in violence. An increase in violence will mean families will speak with their feet. Those who can will move out of the city. Those who can’t will, unfortunately, pay the price.”

MacLeay’s statement also included a link to a 2016 WTOP report about a security guard finding a loaded pistol in a 3-year-old’s backpack. The boy’s father was arrested and charged with carrying an unlicensed pistol, unregistered ammunition, and child endangerment, WTOP reported. The article mentions nothing about the boy’s or his father’s race.

In a tweet thread this morning, Ward 5 SBOE Rep. Zachary Parker called MacLeay’s comments “harmful and problematic.” He called her use of the word “pimps” to describe human traffickers a scare tactic, and said she attempted to “delegitimize the movement sparked by George Floyd’s murder as something ‘half a nation away.’”

“As a Board, it is our responsibility to speak out against harmful rhetoric targeting our students, their lived realities, and the communities from which they came,” Parker tweeted. “We cannot normalize it. And we cannot normalize those who are hellbent on seeing the worse in us. Or them.”

Jessica Sutter, the board’s Ward 6 representative, says she wasn’t surprised that MacLeay opposed the resolution, given her conservative point of view, but “there’s a way to oppose it without using blatantly racist tropes about Black children,” she says.

“What I think disturbs me even more is that this was a prepared statement that she felt comfortable enough to use and describe all the kinds of things she thought police would keep us safe from,” Sutter says.

Sutter notes that Ward 4 Rep. Frazier O’Leary expressed his reservations about the resolution and his belief that police can keep children safe in schools without resorting to racist language. 

“I can’t think of any other word for it,” Sutter says. “You don’t have to use racist language, and she did, and I think that was a deliberate choice.”

Qubilah Huddleston, an education policy analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, testified during last night’s six-hour hearing but signed off before MacLeay’s comments. She woke up this morning to the blowback on social media.

“I think she missed an opportunity to have empathy for students and their families who deal with the true consequences of racial bias in policing,” Huddleston says. “It’s not like any of that is made up.”

The resolution, which is essentially a recommendation from the board, calls on the Deputy Mayor for Education to begin thinking about alternatives to providing school safety outside of DCPS’ contract with MPD.

The resolution suggests alternatives such as expanding school-based mental health programs, using violence interrupters in schools, and training teachers in social-emotional learning and transformative justice. The resolution also asks local education agencies to stop negotiations with MPD and other private security companies beyond the 2021 Fiscal Year and stop seeking funds from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services Office.

The resolution notes that DCPS spent more than $20 million on policing schools in FY 2019 and is projected to spend $23 million on policing schools in FY 2020.

The Council’s education committee passed a budget proposal last month to shift responsibility for school security from MPD to DCPS, and the full Council gave initial approval of the change last week.

DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee has previously defended the presence of police officers in schools.